Science and Technology Business

Physicists acknowledged for industry partnership examining passive seismic data in Alberta

U of A professor Mirko van der Baan receives NSERC Synergy Award for work on Microseismic Industry Consortium.

  • November 10, 2020
  • By Katie Willis
Geophysicist Mirko van der Baan has received NSERC's Synergy Award for his decade-long research project working with academic and industry partners to understand the relationship between seismic activity and resource development. (Photo: John Ulan)

Since 2010, University of Alberta geophysicist Mirko van der Baan has been working closely with industry partners to understand the relationship between seismic activity and resource development. 

Van der Baan, professor in the Faculty of Science, leads the project alongside David Eaton, a fellow geophysicist from the University of Calgary, through the Microseismic Industry Consortium—a collaboration of 17 partners in the oil and gas industry and researchers at the two universities.

Their research focuses on understanding the development of safer and more effective hydraulic fracturing practices, building expertise in both industry and academia, as well as public outreach and education about induced seismicity. Previous research has explored the link between induced earthquakes and industrial activities involving fluid injection or extraction, such as hydraulic fracturing.

“In recent years, it has become clear that hydraulic fracturing treatments and the disposal of produced water may lead in some areas to moderate-sized earthquakes, which have been felt at the surface,” explained van der Baan. “In collaboration with industry, we are investigating the potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing treatments and how to best mitigate the occurrence of any felt seismicity.” 

Now, recognizing nearly a decade of work, the scientists have received the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Synergy Award, which recognizes collaboration between academia and industry. The award includes a $200,000 research grant, as well as financial support for each industrial partner toward further collaboration.

The funding will support van der Baan and his colleagues in broadening the scope of their investigations, exploring more high-risk and open-ended topics—for instance, the use of machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence, to identify locations where moderate-size seismicity is imminent.

“It's been an absolute pleasure to work with everyone involved,” said van der Baan. “We have learned a lot and hope to continue making a meaningful impact academically, within industry and for society.”